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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is a good write up with solid recomendation IMHO and experience the advie is sound as well the testing

If you are an LE officer, carry a BUG!!!
Many small, easily concealed semi-automatic pistols which are recommended for law
enforcement backup or concealed carry use fire .380 ACP or smaller bullets. While these
small caliber handgun bullets can produce fatal wounds,they are less likely to produce the
rapid incapacitation necessary in law enforcement or self-defense situations.
Handguns chambered in .380 ACP are small, compact, and generally easy to carry.
Unfortunately, testing has shown that they offer inadequate performance for self-defense and
for law enforcement use whether on duty as a back-up weapon or for off duty carry. The
terminal performance of .380 ACP JHP's is often erratic, with inadequate penetration and
inconsistent expansion being common problems, while .380 ACP FMJ's offer adequate
penetration, but no expansion. All of the .380 ACP JHP loads we have tested, including
CorBon, Hornady, Federal, Remington, Speer, and Winchester exhibited inconsistent,
unacceptable terminal performance for law enforcement back-up and off duty self-defense use
due to inadequate penetration or inadequate expansion. Stick with FMJ for .380 ACP or better
yet, don't use it at all. The use of .380 ACP and smaller caliber weapons is really not
acceptable for law enforcement use and most savvy agencies prohibit them.
While both the .380 ACP and .38 sp can obviously be lethal; the .38 sp is more likely to
incapacitate an attacker when used in a BUG role.
BUG--Infrequently used, but when needed, it must be 100% reliable because of the extreme
emergency situation the user is dealing with. Generally secreted in pockets, ankle holsters,
body armor holsters, etc... Often covered in lint, grime, and gunk. By their very nature,
usually applied to the opponent in an up close and personal encounter, many times involving
contact shots. A small .38 sp revolver is more reliable in these situations than a small .380
ACP pistol, especially with contact shots or if fired from a pocket.
The Gold Dot 135 gr +P JHP offers the most reliable expansion we have seen from a .38 sp 2”
.38 Sp Speer 135 gr +P JHP Gold Dot (53921), ave vel=856f/s
BG: pen=13.1”, RD=0.56”, RW=134.5gr
4 layer denim: pen=13.6”, RD=0.53”, RW=134.1gr
auto windshield: pen=9.4”, RD=0.51”, RW=129.6gr
Downside is the appreciable recoil and relatively poor intermediate barrier performance.
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There have been many reports in the scientific literature, by Dr. Fackler and others,
recommending the 158 gr +P LSWCHP as offering adequate performance. Please put this in
context for the time that these papers were written in the late 1980's and early 1990's--no
denim testing was being performed at that time, no robust expanding JHP's, like the Barnes
XPB, Federal Tactical & HST, Speer Gold Dot, or Win Ranger Talon existed. In the proper
historical perspective, the 158 gr +P LSWCHP fired out 3-4" barrel revolvers was one of the
best rounds available--and it is still a viable choice, as long as you understand its
While oversimplified, bare gelatin gives information about best case performance, while 4
layer denim provides data on worst case performance--in reality, the actual performance may
be somewhere in between. The four layer denim test is NOT designed to simulate any type of
clothing--it is simply an engineering test to assess the ability of a projectile to resist plugging
and robustly expand. FWIW, one of the senior engineers at a very respected handgun
ammunition manufacturer recently commented that bullets that do well in 4 layer denim
testing have invariably worked well in actual officer involved shooting incidents.
With few exceptions, such as the Speer 135 gr +P JHP and Barnes XPB, the vast majority of
.38 Sp JHP's fail to expand when fired from 2" barrels in the 4 layer denim test. Many of the
lighter JHP's demonstrate overexpansion and insufficient penetration in bare gel testing. Also,
the harsher recoil of the +P loads in lightweight J-frames tends to minimize practice efforts
and decrease accuracy for many officers. The 158 gr +P LSWCHP offers adequate
penetration, however in a 2" revolver the 158gr +P LSWCHP does not reliably expand. If it
fails to expand, it will produce less wound trauma than a WC. Target wadcutters offer good
penetration, cut tissue efficiently, and have relatively mild recoil. With wadcutters harder
alloys and sharper leading edges are the way to go. Wadcutters perform exactly the same in
both bare and 4 layer denim covered gel when fired from a 2" J-frame. For example, the Win
148 gr LWC: VEL = 657 f/s, PEN = 20"+, RD = 0.36", RL = 0.64", RW = 147.4 gr
When faced with too little penetration, as is common with lightweight .38 Sp JHP loads or too
much penetration like with the wadcutters, then go with penetration. Agencies around here
have used the Winchester 148 gr standard pressure lead target wadcutter (X38SMRP), as well
as the Federal (GM38A) version--both work. A sharper edged wadcutter would even be
better... Dr. Fackler has written in Fackler ML: "The Full Wadcutter--An Extremely Effective
Bullet Design", Wound Ballistics Review. 4(2):6-7, Fall 1999)
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"As a surgeon by profession, I am impressed by bullets with a cutting action (eg. Winchester
Talon and Remington Golden Saber). Cutting is many times more efficient at disrupting tissue
than the crushing mechanism by which ordinary bullets produce the hole through which they
penetrate. The secret to the increased efficiency of the full wadcutter bullet is the cutting
action of its sharp circumferential leading edge. Actually, cutting is simply very localized
crush; by decreasing the area over which a given force is spread, we can greatly increase the
magnitude to the amount of force delivered per unit are--which is a fancy way of saying that
sharp knives cut a lot better than dull ones. As a result, the calculation of forces on tissue
during penetration underestimate the true effectiveness of the wadcutter bullet relative to
other shapes."
For years, J-frames were considered "arm's reach" weapons, that is until CTC Lasergrips were
added. With the mild recoil of target wadcutters, officers are actually practicing with their
BUG's; when combined with Lasergrips, qualification scores with J-frames have dramatically
increased. Now 5 shots rapid-fire in a 6" circle at 25 yds is not uncommon--kind of mind
blowing watching officers who could not hit the target at 25 yds with a J-frame suddenly
qualify with all shots in the black…
I personally carry standard pressure wadcutters in my J-frames with Gold Dot 135 gr +P
JHP's in speed strips for re-loads, as the flat front wadcutters are hard to reload with under
stress. I am currently running 342's, previously had the 38 and 649. I like the 342
w/Lasergrips very much. Shooting is not too bad with wadcutters; not so comfortable with the
Speer 135 gr JHP +P Gold Dots. Any of the Airweight J-frames are fine for BUG use. The
steel 649's were a bit too heavy for all comfortable day wear on the ankle, body armor, or in a
pocket. There is no reason to go with .357 mag in a J-frame, as the significantly larger muzzle
blast and flash, and harsher recoil of the .357 Magnum does not result in substantially
improved terminal performance compared to the more controllable .38 Special bullets when
fired from 2” barrels.
2" J-frames are a great BUG's and marginally acceptable low threat carry guns, because they
are lightweight, reliable, and offer acceptable terminal performance at close range--downsides
are difficulty in shooting well at longer ranges because of sight and sight radius limitations,
along with reduced capacity coupled with slower reloading. Nonetheless, with the addition of
CTC Laser Grips and an enclosed or shrouded hammer, the 2" J-frame models without key
locks (I personally will NEVER own firearm with an integral lock) may be the best BUG's
and most reliable pocket handguns available.
Another great BUG option if it can be comfortably carried, is a compact 3-3.5" barrel 9 mm
pistol like the G26, Kahr PM9, Sig P239, or S&W 3913, as these offer superior terminal
performance compared to either .380 ACP or .38 Sp handguns. A G26 is particularly nice
when using a G19 or 17 as a primary weapon due to the ability to use the same magazines.
As always, don't get too wrapped in the nuances of ammunition terminal performance.
Spend you time and money on developing a warrior mindset, training, practice, and more Backup Guns.pdf

4,919 Posts
Nice article and much appreciated, but I will stay with my AMT Backup DAO in .357 Sig or .40 S&W. Same size as a J-Frame with a little more punch. If I need more I can always go back to the .45 ACP Model. Most of the officers I worked with carried either Mod 70 Berettas or PPK's for back up.

3,929 Posts
A very imformative article by someone who really knows the in's & out's of what a bullet will do and can do. Those that read the article I am positive they will be enlightened by the facts and not myths of past decades. :eek:

In my humble opinion small caliber backup guns are not the proper choice (9mm Luger up!) is the proper route to take. I have never been a fan of the snub nose .38-spl, even though those who in law enforcement seem to love the little darlings.:rolleyes:

I to this day, stand by the words of Bill Jordan and Elmer Keith! Simply put: Bigger Is Always Better! A .45acp or Long Colt does not have to expand inorder to gain a large wound channel and neither does a 44 or 41 caliber etc. Nonetheless this article is a good read for all.;) :)
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